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Saturday, December 5, 2015

COMBATING VIOLENT EXTREMISM (1)



The Executive Secretary (ES)of the Abuja National Mosque, Alhaji Ibrahim A. Jega, Ambassador of Algeria, Mr Belkacem Smaili, and Sheikh Youssef Mechria, Secretary of the Algerian League of Imams’


The Executive Secretary (ES)of the Abuja National Mosque, Alhaji Ibrahim A. Jega (Matawallen Jega) hosted ‘a four-man team under the leadership of Sheikh Youssef Mechria, Secretary of the Algerian League of Imams’ at the National Mosque on Thursday 26th November, 2015. Other members were the Ambassador of Algeria, Mr Belkacem Smaili, and Mr Ahmed Benabbes, Foreign Affairs Counsellor, Embassy of Algeria. The team was ‘on a four-day workshop for the purpose of cross-fertilisation of ideas on the effects of extremism and terrorism and measures to be taken in countering the negative activities of terrorist elements.’ The team came chaperoned by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA).

The ES chaired the occasion while yours truly acted as the Master of Ceremonies (MC) and translator. As MC, I commented on the fact that almost all the attendees spoke Arabic or at least understood it. I was vindicated when the ES got up to give his chairman’s remarks. He spoke in lucid Arabic.

He welcomed all the guests to the National Mosque and explained the importance of the lecture to be delivered. He declared that Nigerian Muslims had a lot to learn from Algerian Muslims who have had the misfortune of encountering violent extremism and terrorist attacks before us. He urged everyone to listen with rapt attention and informed the guests that the floor shall be opened for questions, comments and answers. 

One might wonder about the need for a translator, since almost everyone spoke Arabic. However, the need becomes justified when you remember the press attended the lecture as well as some non-Arabic speaking members of the ONSA staff. Sheikh Youssef Mechria did justice to the lecture and I think the content of this lecture should interest our security agencies and every Nigerian. Of course, he spoke in Arabic; what you shall read below is my translation of that beautiful lecture. Enjoy:

‘Your Excellency, the Ambassador, Mr Chairman, I wish to register the comfort and tranquility I enjoy sitting in the midst of my brothers, scholars and Imams from various mosques, in this hallowed precincts of the Abuja National Mosque, the centre of knowledge and peace.

‘I come to you from Algeria. When I came to Abuja, I did not deem myself a stranger. I felt that I was with my loved ones and brethren, which is part of Allah’s bounty on us. ……’

‘The world has now become a very tiny hamlet. Whatever happens here, affects the entire globe. It is sad to note that Nigeria is suffering from the scourge of insurgency and terrorism adorned in the garb of Islaam, a religion  established as a mercy to humanity, free from religious terrorism and violent extremism (Al-Ambiyaa 21:107)’

‘As you all know, the history of the spread of Islaam to our continent of Africa was not by sword, but rather, through the sublime attitude exhibited by faithful Muslim merchants, in whom people saw honesty, trustworthiness, mercy, love, and compassion;  inviting, as it were, to the path of their Lord with wisdom and right conduct (An-Nahl16:125), thus people embraced the religion of Allah in troops. The same goes for all conversions into Islaam, from its early debut to recent history, people were drawn to it largely through good relation they perceive from its adherents.’ (end of quote)

These words remind me of another fact which eludes the notice of bigots in Islam and the staunch enemies of the faith. Bangladesh has large population of Muslims, yet not a single Muslim soldier set foot on it. The same goes for Indonesia. The more you look at the claim of a violent religion spread on the blood of ‘infidels’, the more the evidence compels you to see the contrary as true.

Sheikh Youssef Mechria continued, ‘Your Excellency, the Ambassador, Mr Chairman, scholars and Imams, I would like to dwell to what the chairman mentioned concerning Algeria’s experience in dealing with terrorism and violent extremism. I hope the floor will be opened after this presentation for exchange of ideas among us, dialogue, question and answer session as well as analysis and comments. I shall confine my intervention on the cure - yes, I prefer to use the word cure - in curbing terrorism and violent religious extremism. 

‘We lived this reality of terrorism from the end of 1970s through the beginning  of 1990s mixed in what was called Islamic awareness or religious revival, occasioned, may be, by certain acts of omission from the official religious establishments in the Algerian community. The gap created by that official omission made possible the incursion of the terrorist narrative into Algeria. 

‘There is a religious cable that connects and unites Muslims in the African continent as a whole; that cable is The Qur’an and The Sunnah of the Prophet, (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him), and as expounded by  the mazhab of Imam Malik, (may Allah be pleased with him). The extremist narrative started penetrating the Algerian community after the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution and Jihad in Afghanistan, especially in Muslim gatherings in universities, mosques with high concentration of youth. This gave rise to religious organisations, societies and establishments, each calling to Islam and its revival.

‘Afterwards came the period of democracy when there was surge in the evolvement of political parties and associations. The Muslim revivalist movements used the space created by democracy to attain to political power on religious wheel. Of course other Muslim organisations stuck and confined their activities to da’wah (propagation of Islaam). Those that combined da’wah and politics were further bifurcated into the groups seeking Islamic revival through the ballot, and those seeking for it through the bullet, thus the armed resistance movements which is the most dangerous of all. No law will proscribe peaceful exchange of ideas between groups of people with divergent positions on issue religious or otherwise. But the danger is for ideas to be enforced through violent means.

‘Unfortunately for us in Algeria some extremists were able to ascend the mimbar in not a few mosques. They were thus able to disseminate their extremist ideologies easily. The first to receive the hit was the Algerian Government as an entity, where it was declared non-Islamic, and therefore operating under a kufuristic system. Then during the 1990s they issued a fatwah in which both government and people of Algeria were declared kuffaars, non-believers, renegades from the fold of Islam. This was done even when the Algerian constitution has provisions in it stating that Islaam is the official religion of the state, and has empowered the state on religious expenditure covering mosques, Qu’ranic schools, zakah, Hajj and countless other activities superintended by the Algerian Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowment. Not only that, we have in Algeria what is called Supreme Islamic Council, an official body overseeing Islamic activities and offering counsel to the authorities on such matters. But with all these, the government and people of Algeria were declared infidels by the extremists!

‘The extremists have a dictum: attakfeer qablattafjeer, loosely translated as ‘expulsion before explosion’; meaning you have to expel people from Islam before you kill them with explosives.’

I will continue from here next week.


    


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